Since the early days of planning for our cruising life people have been telling us not to miss Fiji. They said we were going to love it there, had to visit Fiji, could easily spend months in Fiji, don't miss Fiji!!! They were absolutely right – on our first trip into town I was completely captivated by the sights and sounds around me. Even the bus ride was great. We caught the bus into Suva right in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club where we had left our dinghy and the 15 minute trip costs a mere 45 cents US. The mostly open air covered buses run seven days a week from sun-up till ten pm and if your feeling flush a taxi ride back will only set you back about $1.80!
In town the buses converge at the main depot just next to the main market where you unload amidst dozens of other buses and taxis. The platforms are thick with business men and women and the throngs of local women on their way home from the market or grocery shops. Twice a day the place explodes with thousands of school children filtering through either coming or going each wearing their own schools distinct uniform.
Amidst the travelers move a whole world of beggars and peddlers typical to a large third world city. There are snack peddlers and shoe shine men, stands selling fruit juice and tiny carts filled with Chinese foods. Rushing through it all are the wheelbarrow men who deliver goods from the area shops directly to your platform. Lining the edges of the depot are small stands in long rows selling curry and drinks, shoe repair and Bollywood D VD’s.
The main farmers market is a permanent two story affair the size of a football field. Cement walls and floor filled edge to edge with fruit and vegetable sellers, stands filled with fresh eggs, take away food and prepared portions of fruit. There is a distinct separation between Indian merchants and Fijians but for as far as the eye can see there are things to buy. There are pile after pile of mango, papaya, watermelon, banana, coconut, apples and oranges. The air is filled with the scent of lemon grass and ginger and there are colorful pyramids of tomato and eggplant that vi for attention with pumpkins, squash, sweet potato, new potato and okra. Huge piles of several types of root vegetables who's names I don't know are continuously hauled away strung over wooden poles and virtually everything was picked that very morning.
Up a long flight of cement stairs is home to the spice merchants and kava sellers. Here is where you find mounds of brown potatoes and huge stores of yellow onion piled in tight with sacks of lentils, popcorn, dried peas and beans, mule sized packages of almonds, cashews, cinnamon sticks and sultanas. There is dried ginger, smoked paprika,dried chili peppers and little bowls filled with tiny green and red peppers along with plastic bags spilling over with a dozen or so separate ingredients each cook uses to fashion their own special curry.
It's here in the second story of the market where we will buy our sevusevu kava for gifting as we travel around the country.
Kava is a local “grog”made from the pounded mashed root of the kava plant. It produces a slight tranquilizing effect and numbs the lips and tongue. Originally it was made by chewing the roots into a pulp and spitting it back into a special wooden Kava bowl where the resultant grog would be poured into coconut shells and passed around during a kava ceremony. Now days there are kava joints you can go to and spend your day getting loaded, buy it pre-made in take away containers or grind up your own at home. There are “brands” of kava from specific regions with their own reputations but most of the kava is made from powdered root bought by the bagful.
For the offering of sevusevu which is still practiced mostly in the more remote villages the correct form is still generally a 2 kilo bunch of whole kava ears and gnarly root wrapped up in newspaper with colorful ribbon wrapped round the paper to keep it all in a neat package. Their were maybe 20 different sellers all selling your choice of whole plant sevusevu packages, “ears” -just the wide part of the root severed from the tangle of root and brown paper bags of powdered root. A few of the stands had huge ceremonial sevusevu gifts made up out giant many years old roots. One package had a root and ear bouquet that stood six feet tall! We bought six 2 kilo sevusevu packages, now All I need to do is figure out how to fumigate it before it comes aboard Island Bound.
Across the street and further into the city Suva continued to surprise us. Past the daily fish market you move into a world of skyscrapers. Walking along the sidewalks feels like New York City with buses blaring past, taxis honking and whistling, pedestrians crossing everywhere with little regard for lights, beggars on every corner and signs and lights everywhere. The scent of warm fresh bread rolls over the sidewalk from the many bread stores, there are Chinese restaurants everywhere, signs advertising nightclubs and cell phone company kiosks everywhere. There is a six-plex movie theater showing Hollywood, Australian and Bollywood films from noon till midnight.
In the center of downtown there is a big four story MHCC mall with $300 dollar dresses selling next to stands filled with Indian sweets. There are other smaller malls as far as the eye can see and a McDonald selling Big Macs and Fires. Across the river walk from the MHCC mall is “little India” filled with wedding jewelry shops and clothing stores filled with fancy spangled wedding and special occasion clothing and jewel toned sarees that to my eyes looks like they would be fit for a king or queen.
More than half the population in Fiji is of Indian descent and between their dark brown skin and straight hair and the Fijians kinky black hair and dark eyes all around us is a sea of brown. In the big market I was buying bananas from an Indian woman and turned around to find Bill was no longer behind me. I paused searching for my $2 saying my husband was missing and the woman whirled around in a circle then pointed at Bill and laughed saying it was easy “just look for the white, every where is black so he stands right out, see!”
It's in little Indian where finally we locate the curry shops I've been looking forward to for months now. I'm in heaven as soon as we walk inside the Curry House. The lunch crowd lines are thick but the glass cases on either side of the front counter are filled with delicious smelling goodies. The menu behind the counter has three full rows of curries and accompaniments. Lamb curry, goat curry, chicken curry and fish, roasted eggplant, fried noddles, Masala, tandoori and butter chicken and a whole array of vegetarian yummies and roti: fresh made upstairs roti, yummmmmm. The full meal deal gives you a round metal tray with a small bowl of peas and potato, a serving of lentil soup, a smear of tamarind chutney and a piece of pickled mango along side the matching bowl filled with your choice of main dishes. Bill goes for the goat and I decide on the boneless lamb all for less than $5 US each including a drink! Over our days in Suva we find sit down curry houses, take out curry houses, curry dishes at the Chinese restaurants and curry take away at the grocery stores. There is no “how many stars?” when you order here it comes out as hot, hot and hotter - I don't care.
Every time we go into town I am struck again by the chaos and the rhythms of Fiji. Such a mix of island time slow down and big city pace. The locals are quick to smile and filled with laughter. We're greeted on the streets with loud hellos, “Bula!” and are often stopped and asked where we are from and how we are enjoying Fiji. Lots of locals guess straight off that we are here on a “yacht” and are always thrilled to find out that we are staying for months instead of days. They show genuine interest in how long it took us to get here and almost always ask why we decided to visit Fiji. When they find out we will be traveling throughout the outer-island groups they are quick to tell us where they are from and where there families are still. The people have been so welcoming and with so many islands to explore and so much to see and do I'm sure we are going to run out of time before we run our of Fiji.